The 3rd Man In

Milwaukee looks to build on last season’s success

In front of a record setting crowd of 3,312 people the Milwaukee Panthers opened up their 2013 campaign against the Marquette Golden Eagles at home for the prestigious Milwaukee Cup. It was a thrilling matchup that saw the Panthers knock off the nationally ranked Golden Eagles 2-1 to reclaim the Cup.

This game set the tone for the remainder of the season. Milwaukee continued to play at a high level finishing the year with a 15-3-2 record, reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.

“I think we had high expectations to start the year, but I think we may have surpassed them with the record we had,” said senior All-American Laurie Bell. “We were so strong. It was a lot of fun to be involved in, and looking back it was just a lot of great memories that I’ll cherish for a long time.”

This season the Panthers will look to continue to play at a high level while building on last year’s success. It will not be easy however, as the Panthers lost every starter on defense minus goalkeeper Liam Anderson, and their second and third leading scorers in Rami Younes and Robbie Boyd.

While people may expect these losses to cause Milwaukee to take a step back this season, the Panthers don’t see it that way.

“We lost a lot of guys, I think we’ll have to try and replace them, but also try to develop a new style to the guys we have now,” Bell said. “I don’t think we necessarily got weaker. We just need to find a way of play that suits our new personnel.”

With 10 new players, all freshmen, it will not be easy for the Panthers as these newcomers try to adjust to the college game. Although they are a talented group, the pressure will be on them to produce as some are expected to earn major minutes right away.

“We are excited about the freshman. It’s a very talented group. They are young, there is going to be some adopting going on,” head coach Kris Kelderman said. “They just got to step up, produce, deal with the pressure, and do it soon – right at the beginning of the season.”

However, this is not a situation the Panthers are unfamiliar with. Last season they had 12 new players, but the big difference was that some of those players were coming to Milwaukee with previous college experience. Because of that, Coach Kelderman will be relying on his veterans to help and develop the freshmen players, while forming strong team chemistry.

“We are in the exact same situation this year, the difference is last year we had a number of older veterans, transfers, that were able to step in that had experience, and could accommodate to the college game right off the bat,” said Kelderman. “Now we got 10 freshmen and it’s a lot to ask for them to step in. Some have to play significant roles.

“Because of that, our veterans, Laurie Bell, Luke Goodnetter and Declan Rodriguez – those are guys that really have to step up and take a leadership role, direct, control the tempo, the environment and bring the younger guys with them.”

Bell and Goodnetter along with fellow senior Rich Johnson have been named the captains for the 2014 season. These three players along with the veteran experience of Rodriguez will have to bring this team together quickly because Milwaukee will face many tough teams in their nonconference schedule.

Following Milwaukee’s first two contests of the season against DePaul and Drake, they will welcome two difficult teams to Engelmann Stadium.

Oregon State and Gonzaga will make the journey to Milwaukee to take part in the 40th Panther Invitational. These will not be easy opponents, but it will be a great test for the Panthers before traveling to the east coast to play in the Capital Cup. The Panthers will square off against George Mason and American in Washington D.C.

The Panthers will also play both interstate rivals, Wisconsin and Marquette, on the road. Both programs are coming off of NCAA tournament appearances and begin the season ranked in the top 25 in numerous polls.

“We have Marquette and Wisconsin – interstate rivals. They are always on our schedule every year,” said Kelderman. “They are both ranked in the top 25 in numerous polls. Those are always tough games because of the rivalry, but they are very, very good teams.

“We have two teams coming for our tournament from out west in Gonzaga and Oregon State and those are going to be tough matches. George Mason, they are a team ranked in the top 40 in the country. Playing at American is going to be a tough match.

“We got a tough, competitive schedule this year, and it’s going to be pretty challenging.”

Every game is going to be a challenge for the Panthers whether it is nonconference or Horizon League play. The Horizon League is expected to be competitive once again, and it will not be easy to win the regular season conference title.

But entering the season, Milwaukee will be the favorite. The Panthers have been picked by league coaches to take first over the defending regular season champions, the UIC Flames, who finished right behind the Panthers in the preseason selections.

Milwaukee and UIC are expected to battle it out once again for the top spot. UIC returns First-Team All-League selections Jesus Torres and Andrew Putna from last season’s team that went undefeated in conference.

UIC will not be an easy team to beat, but never count out Milwaukee, who has one of college soccer’s top players in Bell, along with an experienced and talented head coach in Kelderman.

The Panthers realize they must improve before their conference season begins, but with experienced veterans this shouldn’t be a problem.

“(We need to improve on) just the continuity of everyone getting a little more familiar with each other,” Kelderman said. “It’s just growing as a team, getting a little more familiar with each other – strengths and weaknesses of each individual player. That comes with time. We got to do that quickly.”

The excitement is building as the regular season approaches, however no on should expect the Panthers to be at their best right away. It will take some time for this team to gel, but when they do, they could be dangerous. Not only is Milwaukee capable of winning the Horizon League, but they also have the talent to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

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